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COR: Group debates Frosh-O changes

John Tierney | Wednesday, September 17, 2008

First Year Orientation should make first year students feel welcome at Notre Dame, Vice President of Student Activities Brian Coughlin told the Council of Representative (COR) as they discussed criticisms of the changes made to Orientation this year at their meeting Tuesday.

“Orientation is one of those lowest common denominator activities,” Coughlin said. “Everybody does it. It’s our job to make sure that every student who comes here has a comfortable, safe and enjoyable experience.”

The changes to Orientation developed first from a committee convened by Assistant Provost Dennis Jacobs that “talked about orientation at the 30,000 foot level,” Coughlin said. The committee was comprised of students, parents, faculty and administrators.

“This committee talked about how packed they believed the Frosh-O schedule was, the awkward gender relations, the session that happens in the Joyce Center on Saturday afternoon and the lack of a true academic component to orientation that the faculty was concerned about,” Coughlin said.

In an attempt to address some of these concerns raised by the original committee, Jacobs established a standing University Committee on Orientation, which was chaired by Dean Hugh Page of First Year Studies and Vice President of Student Affairs Fr. Mark Poorman.

“It was a meeting of folks who had worked on orientation traditionally in the past,” said Coughlin, who was a member of the committee.

He said the committee made several major changes to the Orientation weekend, which allowed for more leisure time and tried to instill a sense of community within the dorms.

“We tried to unpack the schedule a little bit, so [the incoming freshmen] weren’t running around constantly,” he said. “We also wanted to start building community within the halls at first – this was from some conversation with students and a lot from rectors. The Friday night went to something that had all in-hall activities. This was a change for 25 percent of the halls.

“We also wanted to be a little more conscious to set a schedule that applied all across the University. Before, a parent would get the official weekend schedule from the University and they wouldn’t know what the dorm was doing.”

Coughlin said that the committee also wanted to make Orientation a more comfortable atmosphere for students.

He said he has heard that many halls used to wake first year students early in the morning to do activities, which the committee asked dorms not to do. “We also asked people to be respectful of first-year students’ right to get a good night sleep,” he said.

He said there have been many criticisms to the new Orientation schedule from both first year students and upperclassmen.

“Anytime any difference comes on to the Notre Dame campus, there’s some hesitation,” he said.

He said dorms need to consider physical disabilities of some of their orientation activities.

“The request that was made of halls was that if you’re doing something physical, consider the physical limitations and capabilities of everyone in your first year class,” he said. “The last thing we want to do is alienate someone who has a disability, or is on crutches.”

He said students with disabilities are left behind during activities such as dorm runs during orientation that alienates them from their residence hall, “which is supposed to be the cornerstone of the Notre Dame experience.”

Coughlin also said upperclassmen have expressed concerns about first year students spending too much time with their parents during orientation weekend, but he thinks that criticism is unjustified.

“The chunks of parent time isn’t much different,” he said. “All we added was a one to one-and-a-half hour buffer between the end of the Sprit of Notre Dame Mass on Sunday and the first program.

“I bet your parents would have loved a hug or a kiss interaction before they got back in the car and went home,” he said.

The standing committee will meet again this year to further evaluate the changes that they made. The returning members of the committee will be joined by a first year student selected from Freshman Class Council and an upper class student who served on the Orientation staff for his or her residence hall, he said.

Coughlin said the administration is not looking to change Orientation solely on what the committee recommended.

“There’s not a conspiracy,” he said. “There’s a true desire to improve things for everyone. I know Dr. Jacobs well enough that he didn’t hand select a committee to force things through.”

He said that the committee was convened to make necessary changes that make Orientation a better experience for everyone.

“If we have to program for those who are a little more shy, or less comfortable about being on campus, we have to do it,” he said. “In terms of First Year Orientation, it’s on all of us to make everyone in the community feel comfortable and not awkward.”

The parts of Orientation that are rooted in the core of what the University is will not change, Coughlin said.

“[We won’t change] the importance of the residence hall community, exposing first year students and their families to some academic part of the weekend, having the spiritual component of Mass, and establishing community,” he said. “Residentiality, academic life, spiritual life, and community – that’s what we’re about.”